Western Europe gradually passes from the power of the Roman into that of the Teuton

The Visigoths had now obtained a permanent home by the shores of the Atlantic. This final settlement of the Visigoths, who had moved about for twenty years in the three peninsulas of the Mediterranean, was a momentous stage in that process of compromise between the Roman Empire and the Germans which had been going on for many years and was ultimately to change the whole face of western Europe. Constantius was doing in Gaul what Theodosius the Great had done in the Balkans. There were now two orderly Teutonic kingdoms on Gallic soil under Roman lordship, the Burgundian on the Rhine, the Visigothic on the Atlantic.


The First Kingdom of the Burgundians, after the settlement in Savoy from 443

Wallia did not live to see the arrangements which he had made for his people carried into effect. He died a few months after the conclusion of the compact, and a grandson of Alaric was elected to the throne, Theodoric I. (A.D. 418). Upon him it devolved to superintend the partition of the lands which the Roman proprietors were obliged to surrender to the Goths. It must have taken a considerable time to complete the transfer. The Visigoths received the lion’s share. Each landlord retained one-third of his property for himself and handed over the remaining portion to one of the German strangers. This arrangement was more unfavourable to the Empire than arrangements of the same kind which were afterwards made in Gaul and in Italy with other intruders. For in these other cases it was the Germans who received the third, the Romans retaining the larger share. And this was the normal proportion. For the principle of these arrangements was directly derived from the old Roman system of quartering soldiers on the owners of land. On that system, which dated from the days of the Republic, and was known as hospitalitas, the owner was bound to give one-third of the produce of his property to the guests whom he reluctantly harboured. This principle was now applied to the land itself, and the same term was used; the proprietors and the barbarians with whom they were compelled to share their estate were designated as host and guest (hospites).

This fact illustrates the gradual nature of the process by which western Europe passed from the power of the Roman into that of the Teuton. Transactions which virtually meant the surrender of provinces to invaders were, in their immediate aspect, merely the application of an old Roman principle, adapted indeed to changed conditions. Thus the process of the dismemberment of the Empire was eased; the transition to an entirely new order of things was masked; a system of federate states within the Empire prepared the way for the system of independent states which was to replace the Empire. The change was not accomplished without much violence and even continuous warfare; but it was not cataclysmic.

The problem which faced the imperial government in Gaul was much larger than the mere settlement of the Gothic nation in Aquitania. The whole country required reorganisation, if the imperial authority was to be maintained effectively as of old in the provinces. The events of the last ten years—the ravages of the barbarians, and the wars with the tyrants—had disorganised the whole administrative system. The lands north of the Loire—Armorica in the large sense of the name—had in the days of the tyrant Constantine been practically independent, and it was the work of Exuperantius to restore some semblance of law and order in these provinces. Most of the great cities in the south and east had been sacked, or burned, or besieged. We saw how imperial Treves, the seat of the praetorian prefect, had been captured and plundered by the Vandals: since then it had been, twice at least, devastated by the Franks with sword and fire. The Prefect of the Gauls translated his residence from the Moselle to the Rhone, and Arles succeeded to the dignity of Treves.

What Constantius and his advisers did for the restoration of northern Gaul is unknown, but the direction of their policy is probably indicated by the measure which they adopted in the south, in the diocese of Septimania. On April 17, A.D. 418, Honorius issued an edict enacting that a representative assembly was to meet every autumn at Arles, to debate questions of public interest. It was to consist of

(1) the seven governors of the seven provinces,

(2) the highest class of the decurions

(3) representatives of the landed proprietors.

The council had no independent powers; its object was to make common suggestions for the removal of abuses or for improvements in administration, on which the praetorian prefect might act himself or make representations to the central government. Or it might concert measures for common action in such matters as a petition to the Emperor or the prosecution of a corrupt official.

The advantages of Arles and its busy commercial life are thus described in the Edict:

All the famous products of the rich Orient, of perfumed Arabia and delicate Assyria, of fertile Africa, fair Spain, and brave Gaul, abound here so profusely that one might think the various marvels of the world were indigenous in its soil. Built at the junction of the Rhone with the Tuscan sea, it unites all the enjoyments of life and all the facilities of trade.”

It must also have been present to the mind of Constantius that the Assembly, attracting every year to Arles a considerable number of the richest and most notable people from Aquitania Secunda and Novempopulana, would enable the provincials, surrounded by Visigothic neighbours, to keep in touch with the rest of the Empire, and would help to counteract the influence which would inevitably be brought to bear upon them from the barbarian court of Toulouse.

(Source: “The Invasion of Europe By the Barbarians”, by Bury, J.B.)

Research-Selection for NovoScriptorium: Anastasius Philoponus

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